An Open Letter to Sir Kevan Collins

An Open Letter to Sir Kevan Collins

An open letter to Sir Kevan Collins

Dear Sir Kevan,

We are Action for Children’s Arts Young Voices: a group of young people aged 7 to 17 who meet every month to discuss issues concerning children’s arts and education.

Firstly, thank you for taking on the role of Catch-up Tsar along with the huge pressure, expectation and responsibility that it involves. Following a number of Young Voices meetings about summer ‘catch-up’ we wanted to write and share our thoughts and concerns about the summer holidays:

  • We believe that any education offered over the summer holidays should be optional. The last year has been difficult, and children need to be given the opportunity to relax and recover over the summer holidays. We acknowledge that there are some children who have fallen behind in the last year, for whom intervention might be useful and appropriate. When deciding which children qualify for ‘catch-up’ we ask you to take their circumstances into account, for example whether they are struggling with their mental health (in which case the pressure of extra school might do more harm than good).
  • Delivery of summer ‘catch-up’ should be flexible. We believe that the idea of ‘catch-up’ would be more appealing to children and their families if delivery was spread out over the summer holidays. This would still allow for families to organise time away together, and for children to have some much-needed downtime between ‘catch-up’ days in school. For the same reason, it would also be better if catch-up sessions did not last a whole school day.
  • Children at transition points or who are about to take important exams should be prioritised. ‘Catch-up’ delivery should focus on children transitioning into year 7 - particularly those who are starting at new schools - and young people going into year 11 and 13 who have important exams coming up. If there is extra resource, children who went into year 7 in September 2020 should also receive the offer of ‘catch-up’ as they have not had much of a chance to adapt to the transition from primary to secondary school in the last academic year.
  • The ‘catch-up’ curriculum should include extra sport and creative activities. In the spirit of a fun and relaxing summer holiday, any ‘catch-up’ that takes place should be an opportunity to do more enrichment activities. We feel that these are the activities that suffered most during the lockdown, as they are harder to do in isolation. In addition to this, we believe that additional creative and physical education would present a great chance to help young people who are struggling with their mental health, or those at transition points (for example entering year 7) who are concerned about making new friends.
  • Any ‘catch-up’ on offer should be free. We must maintain our right to free education, including the provision of free school meals.
  • Where possible, we should be taught by our teachers. We believe it is important that those who are giving us knowledge and nurturing us are people we know, trust and have a good relationship with. This is particularly vital for children with additional support needs. If we are working with teachers who do not know our learning styles, much of the ‘catch-up’ time will be wasted getting to know each other and trying to communicate what works best for us in the classroom.
  • Our teachers should be properly paid for their contribution to the ‘catch-up’ effort. This has been a really hard year for teachers - we should be focusing on how to support them and improve their working conditions, not asking them to do more work for little or no return.

We look forward to hearing your response to our suggestions and want to thank you again for taking on this very important task.

Yours sincerely,

ACA Young Voices

Arts Backpack UK Fife pilot

Arts Backpack UK Fife pilot

The Arts Backpack UK - Fife pilot

Today marks the release of the final report for The Arts Backpack UK - Fife pilot. This report evaluates our preliminary pilot of The Arts Backpack UK, which we ran in Fife, Scotland from October 2020 - March 2021. Click here to download the report.

The key findings of the report are:

  • The Arts Backpack UK can successfully foster arts and culture in areas where children may experience barriers to provision.
  • The Arts Backpack UK has a clear value for the teacher and their professional development and confidence.
  • The Arts Backpack UK can be presented as being about the art-forms, or as a way of engaging with curriculum topics, or a well-being agenda.
  • Local partners (teachers and cultural organisations) can help co-design the contents and influence its make-up according to each location.

This pilot builds on our 2018 Feasibility Study, testing the recommendations of that study in context. We worked in five schools in the Fife Coalfields area with children in classes P4 to P7 (aged 8-11). At the beginning of the project, our plans did not anticipate the full extent of the second wave of Covid-19 and the new lockdown restrictions which meant that children were being home-schooled from January to March 2021. As a result of this, the pilot was largely redesigned to be delivered online.

The pilot demonstrated the value of The Arts Backpack UK for teachers, as well as their pupils. All of the teachers who engaged with the project noted how their confidence in delivering arts and cultural activities had increased over the course of the project. Their feedback about student response was also positive:

They were able to see pieces of art that they wouldn’t normally get to see, especially during COVID. Children were keen to go and look further on the websites to see other pieces of art. (About a Magic Lantern Art activity)

Children who normally would stay quiet and avoid music tasks were smiling and engaging and the children enjoyed sharing their creations with their peers and the staff. (About Google Chrome Music Lab)

They enjoyed being able to tell a story, that they created, in a different way. Other children liked that they could be more creative than they would in a standard piece of writing and that there were no right or wrong ways to create their comic book. (About V&A Dundee 'Create a Comic Book')

Many thanks to all the teachers and pupils who took part in the project and contributed to this report. Thank you to the young people at Chickenshed Theatre and the readers of First News for their valuable contributions to pilot planning. Our thanks also to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and Fife City Council for their generous financial support.

We are currently planning a second-phase of pilots to take place in the 21/22 academic year.

Catch Up: a reflection from ACA Trustee Janna Balham

Catch Up: a reflection from ACA Trustee Janna Balham

With Sir Kevan Collins having been appointed the government’s first Education Recovery Commissioner or ‘Catch Up Tsar’, I’ve been wondering about the term ‘catch up’ when the world has been paused. The term is a problematic one.

Boris Johnson stated in a press release that he was determined that no child would be left behind as a result of the pandemic. That is a good sentiment but my fear is that he thinks we are running a race. We’ve all fallen behind. Trauma, anxiety, depression, mental and physical health are amongst the many casualties. So why not stop to put ourselves back together, rather than pushing children ‘to catch up’ with the formalities of learning on a playing field that was never very even to start with. Perhaps we need to fill in the cracks, or even better – build a new playing field.

I understand the focus on recovery. My hope is that we follow the advice of child psychologists and have the ‘summer of play’ that experts suggested. However, with advisors now looking into longer school days and shorter holidays the emphasis doesn’t seem to be on recovery but on ‘catch up’. As a therapist working in schools, I see first-hand how traumatised children cannot simply ‘catch up’, but need to be creative, play, and use the arts to express themselves and explore their feelings before they can begin to absorb formal learning. This takes time. It is not a race. Children who have lived through war do eventually learn again, but mental health needs to first be acknowledged and treated with care.

After World War 2, the government’s focus was on welfare and community. But as technology and consumerism took over, the education system had to respond to needs associated with industrialisation and childcare rather than child development.

Our politicians finally have a chance to align education with child development, and they can start at the very beginning. Our early school starting age in comparison to other European countries has always been debated. Do children have ‘a head-start in the race?’ Or are they missing out on fundamental time to play, explore and spend time with their primary carers as child development experts have suggested?

Sir Kevan Collins has an unenviable task ahead of him but this is a huge opportunity if we really focus on ‘recovery’ and healing rather than on ‘catching up’.

Janna Balham

Janna is a Trustee of ACA, a registered therapist and child counsellor.

ACA selected for the Aviva Community Fund

ACA selected for the Aviva Community Fund

ACA selected for the Aviva Community Fund

We are thrilled that our Leicester pilot of the Arts Backpack UK has been selected for the Aviva Community Fund. This is a crowdfunding campaign with a difference – alongside your donations, Aviva employees will be allotted company money to donate to causes of their choosing! Please help us reach our target by donating and sharing with any Aviva employees you may know:

Our main partner for this pilot is The Spark Arts for Children, who have been delivering arts education across Leicester as part of the City Classroom since 2016. The pilot has community at its heart – promoting the work of local venues and helping them to reconnect with the children, families and schools that they serve. We want to show children the world outside their front door – a world that has been closed for almost a year now!

Throughout the pilot we want to explore:

  • the effects of creative activities on building resilience in primary-school age children;
  • how we can use creative learning to give children the language to reflect on and respond to experiences of the last year;
  • how best to support teachers in delivering a creative curriculum;
  • the value of connecting local schools to their local arts organisations – finding local, culturally relevant and relatable solutions to local problems.

Our funding target is £2,500, with a stretch target of £5,000 which will enable us to evaluate in even greater depth. Whether it’s £1 or £100, please give what you can to help us bring the Arts Backpack UK to Leicester in 2021:

A statement from Action for Children’s Arts for Children’s Mental Health Week

A statement from Action for Children’s Arts for Children’s Mental Health Week

A statement from Action for Children's Arts for Children's Mental Health Week

Children are at the heart of our charity. We wish that society and politicians would do the same, and put children first.

The current mental health of our children is a huge concern. Prior to lockdown, one in six children had a probable mental problem.1 Who knows how this figure will have escalated when we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

We cannot provide answers but we can reach out to all the parents and carers who are doing their best to help their children cope with adversity and adapt to change. Please know that we respect and admire you.

We urge politicians to accept that alongside the learning deficit, it is important to allow our children to catch up with the fun deficit. Extra work and no play will not make children clever. Education and health are closely linked – pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically.2

We must find ways to keep children socialising safely, to enable them to let off steam and have adventures with their peers.

The arts have an important part to play in every child’s life. Dance improves their physical health and self-esteem, drama improves social skills, learning an instrument helps them to cope with stress, and creating visual art helps them to develop a sense of identity and increases resilience.3 These are all vital skills that our children need post-pandemic.

We will be exploring how the arts can play their part in the recovery curriculum as part of Arts Backpack UK pilots. We hope that the government will follow our example and give every child the creative nourishment they deserve.

Let the arts into their lives, to help to heal us all.

Vicky Ireland MBE FRSA, Chair of Action for Children’s Arts

A plea for donations:

If you feel able to support our pilots of the Arts Backpack UK, please donate here:

The Year in Review: 2020

The Year in Review: 2020

The Year in Review

January 2020

The year got off to a wonderfully normal start with Members’ drinks at SAMA Bankside. We were delighted to be joined by ACA Patron Michael Foreman, who together with our President David Wood OBE gave a fitting tribute to our much-loved and much-missed Patron Terry Jones, who passed away on the 21st of January. We were also able to raise a glass to ACA Patron Baroness Floella Benjamin, made a Dame in the New Years’ Honours.

February 2020

We received the first instalment of Arts Backpack UK funding from Fife Council.

March 2020

The pandemic struck, and the world changed overnight. We started sharing a weekly round-up of creative activities for people who were home-schooling; as well as a list of emergency funding resources for our practitioner members.

April – May 2020

We started crowdfunding to support the children’s arts community. Thanks to the generosity of members, patrons and friends of ACA, we raised an amazing £4,000!

We distributed our crowdfunding efforts to twelve individuals and small organisations who were in desperate need of help. You can find out more about the Covid-19 fund recipients here: Children’s Arts Covid-19 fund: recipients

“The award has given us a lifeline. Thank you again to everyone at Action for Children’s Arts. We hope to see you again soon when we can all meet up and celebrate but, meanwhile, we will continue to push for children’s arts to be central to the recovery from this dreadful pandemic.” – Teach it through Drama

June 2020

We sponsored ACA Development Officer Mimi Doulton to join the Freelance TaskForce. Mimi worked closely with the Theatre for Young Audiences, Musicians in Theatre, and Early-Career Practitioners groups, trying to enact positive change in our industry.

We would like to say huge thank you to Peter McKintosh, Theatre Designer for his very generous donation to ACA, from the sale of his artwork during June and July. His wonderfully kind gesture will help to ensure the charity’s survival and underpin our current and future endeavours.

July 2020

ACA launched a bursary membership scheme, sponsored by kind individuals who had bought a birthday candle in our twentieth birthday year. You can meet our first five bursary members here: ACA welcomes five bursary members. If you know someone who would benefit from a year’s free membership of ACA, please get in touch!

August – September 2020

We held four Zooms with ACA Members, exploring the following topics.

  • The Future of Working in Schools
  • Embedding Diversity into your Working Practice
  • Developing your Online Outreach
  • Gender and sexuality issues in our work creating arts for and with children

Thank you to our wonderful speakers, and to the more than 70 members who took part in these sessions. You can read the notes and recommendations from these sessions on the ACA website. Click here to read the notes.

We also sadly bid farewell to another ACA patron, the inspirational Professor Sir Ken Robinson. He is deeply missed by us all.

October 2020

Our Trustee Susan Whiddington received a CBE for her work with children and families at Mousetrap Theatre Projects! Congratulations Susan.

We also shared the launch of the ASSITEJ International Manifesto, based on ACA’s Children’s Arts Manifesto. This manifesto will raise awareness of children’s needs and rights to their own arts and culture, as is set out in UN Article 31. It is part of a global initiative to raise awareness of the importance of the arts in the lives of children and to draw attention to the fact that in so many countries, arts for children are not on any political agenda.

November 2020

November was a pretty big month! We were so excited to award the 2020 JM Barrie Award to ACA Patron Anna Home OBE, and incredibly grateful to everyone at the BBC and Dock10 for their help in producing our first online awards. You can still watch the ceremony on YouTube, just click play on the video:

November also saw the long-awaited launch of our first Arts Backpack UK pilot in Fife, Scotland! We are looking forward to working with six primary school classes for the next four months, introducing them to a range of quality cultural experiences online. You can find a full history of the Arts Backpack, along with monthly updates here: The Arts Backpack UK

Our thanks to Fife Council and the Haberdashers’ Company for funding this pilot.

December 2020

In December, we were so honoured to announce Kate Robinson as a new patron of ACA. “I am absolutely delighted to be a patron of Action for Children’s Arts. The work of ACA was so dear to my Dad’s heart, it is a privilege to be able to continue it.”

Last but not least, we had a wonderful festive celebration with some of you on Zoom! Thank you to everyone who took the time to pop in and say hello.

Until next year…

PS! We couldn’t have done any of this without the support of our wonderful members. If you are in a position to do so, please click here and join today.

Arts Backpack pilots begin in Fife

Arts Backpack pilots begin in Fife

Arts Backpack pilots begin in Fife

We are delighted to announce that the Arts Backpack UK began its first pilot in six Fife primary schools at the beginning of November. We are looking forward to working with around 200 students and teachers at: Cowdenbeath Primary School, Kelty Primary School, Benarty Primary School, Hill of Beath Primary School, Cardenden Primary School and Fulford Primary School.

Over the next four months, classes will be able to select activities to go into their Backpacks from our directory of online resources. This includes activities from ACA Members Theatre Alibi and Magic Lantern; Scottish arts organisations Imaginate and Scottish Opera; and national and international institutions such as Google Arts and Culture. In addition to this, each class will have the opportunity to commission a piece of online content from one of our partners in Scotland.

Everyone at ACA is so proud to be pushing ahead with this first pilot, despite the challenges presented to us by Covid-19. Although the pandemic has limited our possibilities to work face-to-face, it has truly widened the horizons of what arts and culture are available for children to experience online. We look forward to sharing these experiences with our students in Fife over the next four months.

A plea for donations:

If you feel able to support future pilots of the Arts Backpack UK, please donate here:

A new manifesto for ASSITEJ

A new manifesto for ASSITEJ

A new manifesto for ASSITEJ

We are delighted to share with you the ASSITEJ International Manifesto, based on ACA’s Children’s Arts Manifesto. This manifesto will raise awareness of children’s needs and rights to their own arts and culture, as is set out in UN Article 31. This is part of a global initiative to raise awareness of the importance of the arts in the lives of children and to draw attention to the fact that in so many countries, arts for children are not on any political agenda.
Whilst they are on the UK's agenda, they are relatively low priority, and often drowned out by the clamour for adult arts. We need to raise the profile of children's arts and back the Manifesto, calling for a universal investment in children’s participation in cultural activity.

- Vicky Ireland MBE, Chair of Action for Children's Arts

Response to latest curriculum guidance

Response to latest curriculum guidance

Response to latest curriculum guidance

We were pleased to read that the government has retracted plans to encourage removing non-core subjects from the curriculum for the majority of children in September. Instead, they are now encouraging a broad curriculum that embraces sciences, humanities, the arts, physical education/sport, religious education and relationships and health education.

However, guidance is still in place that for students in exceptional circumstances, these subjects could be suspended until summer 2021 – on agreement with parents. Action for Children’s Arts (ACA) would like to emphasise that even for children who are perceived to be behind in their academic attainment, creative outlets will be key to their mental and emotional recovery from this crisis. Whilst we understand that schools are under pressure to meet the government’s academic attainment targets, we urge them to prioritise children’s well-being.

ACA Chair Vicky Ireland said,
‘I personally feel there should be more awareness, that it’s not back to business as usual. Covid-19 has been damaging and we need to heal. We need to acknowledge there is a special and urgent need to prioritise children, their well-being and mental health. What measures are being put in place to listen, help and heal?’
In addition to this, we are concerned by the continued advice against group singing and music-making, before sufficient evidence has been produced around its dangers. Choral singing has been proven to enhance children’s brain development, widen their cultural horizons, and give them a sense of belonging. After this prolonged period of isolation, we believe that fostering this sense of belonging must be maintained as a crucial part of every child’s education.

Finally, we still await guidance on working in schools for visiting creative practitioners. We hope that the government will produce this before the end of the summer term, so that the many freelancers and small companies who depend on this work can start planning for a return to business in the autumn.